Some people are not fond of cyclists. Whether it’s some latent, xenophobic distaste for anything vaguely European or just motorists’ contempt for anything on the road that doesn’t go five over the speed limit, cyclists engender animosity from a vocal portion of the population.
And even when cyclists aren’t hated, they’re frequently disrespected. When Kenny Powers said, “I play real sports; not trying to be the best at exercising,” a nation of lacrosse stick-wielding, ball-tossing dude-bros laughed — not because they thought him ignorant, but because they thought him wise.
Yet even in the midst of this hostile environment, bike racing is growing in popularity. Perhaps because Lance Armstrong committed the only capital crime besides murder in the United States — lying to Oprah — mountain biking seems to be catching on more than road racing.
I Want to Ride My Mountain Bicycle
As you might expect of a sport that has an enormous geographic feature in its name, mountain biking has been increasing in popularity more rural than urban areas. The club sport is catching on in Idaho, where the Idaho High School Cycling League has created a four-race season. That league was founded by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which has made fifteen leagues in fourteen states.
In the Idaho league, kids have to pay a registration fee of $50, and then they must pay $35 more for every race they decide to enter. They — well, their parents — will also have to pay for their own equipment. While that might be financially cumbersome, if you’re hurdling down the face of a mountain, you’re going to want to be on a quality set of wheels — not on a questionable hand-me-down that sits in a janitor’s closet for half of the year.
But Why Mountain Bikes?
The creation of leagues in states like California, Minnesota, and Idaho shows that cycling is getting more popular in these high schools, but it does nothing to explain why. There are a few possible reasons.
Sports like basketball, baseball and football just aren’t for everybody. Some people like to be in constant, non-stop motion when they play a sport. Sports like track and swimming allow them to keep moving. So does mountain biking — but unlike those other sports, it doesn’t involve going back and forth or round and round in the same circle.
Instead, you get things like competing near alligators and dodging rattle snakes. You get to fly down hills and go over tree stumps. So you’re not just battling the other riders and your own ability to stay upright, but you’re also encountering the elements, too.
The element of danger is present, and is probably a good reason for the sport’s popularity, but it isn’t overwhelming. At least one team practices on a closed course with tires and piles of pallets before they let their riders face a mountain.
Sure, people probably don’t join with hopes of becoming a professional mountain biker. But who wouldn’t want to spend every day after school zooming down mountain trails — besides Kenny Powers, that is.